DC leaders consider 2 bills aimed at dropping workplace marijuana testing

D.C. council members are considering two bills that would do away with marijuana testing of employees at work.

Possession of marijuana and its recreational use is legal in D.C., and many District residents have a prescription for medical marijuana. But as the law stands, employees can be penalized at work if they test positive for the drug.

“Our thinking on marijuana from a criminal justice perspective has evolved. But our thinking on marijuana from an employment perspective is stuck in the last century,” said At-Large Council member David Grosso.

The two bills under discussion by the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development involve drug testing at work: The Prohibition of Marijuana Testing Act of 2019 proposes to eliminate marijuana testing in the workplace. This bill passed as emergency legislation but now must transition through the legal process for adoption as a permanent law.

The second, the Medical Marijuana Program Patient Protection Amendment Act of 2019, would do away with marijuana testing on employees enrolled in the city’s medical marijuana program who have a prescription.

“Employers should treat medical marijuana employees as they would with other medical issues,” Queen Adesuyi, with the Drug Policy Alliance, testified to the committee.

Jim Greer, with the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association, presented to council members information in favor of keeping workplace drug testing in place.

“This current legislation may jeopardize the public safety and will certainly hinder an employer’s right to simply say, ‘I am a drug-free workplace,'” Greer said.

But, Adesuyi said, “Adults should not be subjected to intrusive, overly broad testing and potentially punished for consuming a legal substance.”

Blood and urine testing, which employers often rely on, cannot provide an accurate reading of when a person has used marijuana, others argued.

Tyler McFadden, with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called it an outdated means of testing, which detects levels of THC that could have been consumed weeks earlier and does not accurately indicate impairment.

“NORML recommends employers and lawmakers cease their reliance on these ineffective procedures and, instead, institute alternative performance-based testing, such as Alert Meter or Druid, in instances where there exists reasonable suspicion of an employee’s impairment in the workplace,” McFadden said.

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